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Sony's HD Deals Are Picture Perfect

Record March has company bullish on its flexible gear 4/24/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Sony came to Las Vegas this year already feeling like a winner. Even before Sony's Broadcast and Production Systems division hit the NAB Show, March sales hit an all-time high, says Sony Broadcast Director of Marketing Alec Shapiro, beating the previous record by $10 million.

Most of the buzz is around HD. “More than 50% of our sales will be in HD,” says John Scarcella, Sony Broadcast president. “And we're meeting that demand with a range of products from HDV at the entry level to HDCAM-SR [at the high end].”

Topping the list of high-profile sales is a deal with CBS for the conversion of Late Show With David Letterman to HDTV this summer (expected to be on-air by Sept. 1). Bob Ross, CBS senior VP, East Coast operations, expects the use of Sony gear to help the production of HD broadcasts run seamlessly and effectively. The MVS-8000A, for example, has powerful digital-video-effects capabilities, large storage capacity for snapshots, and the ability to recall settings on the fly—something that will be handy for Letterman's “Top 10 List” segments.

New technology (not just the highly touted HD version of the XDCAM) is driving sales. Two other new HD cameras, the HDC-1000 studio and the HDC-1500 portable camera, were drawing attention from customers. Both acquire images at 1080 lines, 60 progressive frames per second (1080/60p), giving users the ability to produce events in either 1080i or 720p.

More HD Trucks On The Road

This sort of format flexibility was previously seen only in Grass Valley's WorldCam cameras—an advantage that led to a large number of sales, particularly in the live-production-truck rental market.

Like the WorldCam, Sony's new cameras aren't cheap. The Sony HDC-1000 studio camera is scheduled to be available in August at a suggested list price of $100,000. The HDC-1500, also planned for an August debut, will run at about $90,000.

The cameras have already had one interesting application: on Fox's American Idol. The show is shot at CBS Television City, but CBS and Fox use different HDTV standards: CBS is committed to 1080i, and Fox uses 720p.

Barry Zegal, CBS VP, production and operations, is impressed by the versatility. The new Sony gear produces either resolution at the flip of a switch, and the sensitivity is comparable to those that are strictly 1080i. “The production staff gives the camera rave reviews,” Zegal says.

Andy Setos, president, Fox Engineering, says flexible HD cameras will help get more HD trucks on the road and more HD-capable stages built. That will spur growth in HD production. The new adaptable Sony cameras make it “much easier for truck companies, post facilities and other suppliers to satisfy the needs of their customers,” he says.

Game Creek Video, a mobile-video- truck supplier, used the cameras for events including the Oscars, NBA games and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The company took delivery of 39 HDC-1500 multi-format cameras and, because of their flexibility, plans to add several more throughout its fleet of trucks.

Game Creek President Pat Sullivan points to the company's work for ESPN and New York's YES Network, which airs Yankee games. ESPN produces its games in 720p, and YES works in 1080i. Without a switchable camera, Sullivan's company would need to have two sets.

Another important factor is the need to use either fiber or triax for camera cable runs. “With these new cameras, the ability to fairly easily move between either fiber or triax operation, and to present this option to our customers, is a huge advantage in camera technology,” says Sullivan. Game Creek will probably use the cameras for ABC and ESPN coverage of the NBA finals.

Two Big Deals

Separately, Sony also made two big deals for its XDCAM tapeless cameras: ABC's 10 owned-and-operated stations will make the switch to optical-disc newsgathering. WLS Chicago is already using the systems, and WTVG Toledo and KTRK Houston will be converted later this month. The remaining seven ABC stations will begin using the XDCAM system over the next 18 months.

Additionally, five stations within the Gray Television Group are moving to XDCAM. KWTX Waco, Texas; KBTX Bryan, Texas; KXII Sherman, Texas; WVLT Knoxville, Tenn., and KKCO Grand Junction, Colo., have already taken delivery of several XDCAM PDW-510 camcorders, PDW-1500 decks and newly introduced PDW-D1 external drives.

Any doubting Thomases need only to mull this nugget: Sony recently sold $1.2 million of HD gear to the Jacksonville Baptist Church in Florida, as well as HD to the Anchorage Baptist Church in Alaska and the Church of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City. Says Sony's Scarcella, “I call that a movement.”

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